Mubadala World Tennis ChampionshipRoger Federer

Will Roger Federer Ever Play an IMG Owned Tournament Again?

The Mubadala World Tennis Championships starts today in Abu Dhabi and the most noticeable absentee is of course Roger Federer.

Since 2008/09 Roger has turned out at the event in the United Arab Emirates every year so why did he decide to miss the 2012/2013 event?

When he first released his schedule I simply thought it was to ensure he got adequate rest after a long season and his Exhibition matches in South America but now that I've learnt that the Mubadala World Tennis Championship is an IMG owned event I'm not sure that's the only reason behind it.

My suspicions further increased when I stumbled across some ridiculous quotes from Greg Sproule in an article on Sports 360. Sproule manages IMG's operation in the middle east and when asked about Roger's omission from the tournament he came up with gems like:

The principle reason is that we are celebrating past champions and Roger, unfortunately, hasn’t won the event.

Two words: Oh Dear. Roger's popularity in the middle east is sky high so to come up with a reason like that is just stupid. It'd be better to say nothing at all so it seems to me that IMG are a very petty organisation looking to take digs at people in the media or they have a shockingly shit Public Relations team.

The quotes get worse too:

He is very dear to us, and I mean that very seriously. But the celebration of champions and the youth of the ATP, which we have in spades here with arguably the six hottest young players in the game, was our aim from the outset. These guys have more Grand Slam victories ahead of them rather than behind them

And this one really takes the biscuit:

I think much of the feedback we were getting, people wanted to have Andy Murray. They wanted him to come back, He’s had such an incredible summer and year overall. Andy’s back and we’re thrilled with that

I mean come on, I bet if you asked anyone in the street who they'd want to watch, Murray's name wouldn't even crop up.

I believe this can only be as a result of two things:

1.) Roger has shunned IMG and realised he wants to be no part of their organisation or remotely related to any of their tennis dealings. They've taken their bat home and decided to pump out rubbish like that in an attempt to both rile him up and appear as though they're the ones making such decisions.

2.) IMG have decided they no longer want to support Roger and wish to pursue other avenues like Djokovic, who's just signed for IMG as it happens, simply because Roger is coming towards the end of his career and they want to represent the newer generations.

Out of those two I'm tempted to go for the first one. IMG are all about the money and they're not stupid so I'm sure they know deep down there's still money to be made from Roger across the globe as he's still such a popular figure. Why would they leave money on the table if it was there for the taking?

I'd say Roger is in the more commanding position here too so it's likely that the decision is on his part as opposed to him being excluded. I doubt if it was an IMG decision they'd have to resort to quotes like “we're only celebrating past champions this year”.

A Brief Background on Federer and IMG

Roger started out his career with IMG, first left in 2003 to be managed by Mirka, his mother and a Swiss lawyer but then rejoined in 2005 when the company was bought by Ted Forstmann. Since then Roger has been represented by Tony Godsick who was one of IMG's agents. In 2012, around the time of the French Open, both Godsick and Federer parted ways and the reasons cited were that neither of them could come to terms on a new contract.

That's about all we know really, much of the information hasn't been disclosed, whether there was a disagreement or simply Godsick and Federer wanted to go it alone nobody really knows. Apparently Roger had the option of resigning with IMG but for one reason or another he hasn't.

Larry Ellison's Offer of Increased Prize Money

Larry Ellison

The next piece of the IMG puzzle is when Larry Ellison offered to increase the prize money at his Indian Wells tournament by a further $800,000 dollars that would be equally distributed amongst the players.

In a rather bizarre move the proposal was rejected at the ATP board meeting in London during the World Tour Finals with apparently IMG representatives forming the mainstay of the opposition.

Why would the ATP, an organisation tasked with growing and improving the sport of tennis reject a voluntarily increase in prize money that's spread across the draw for all players? It doesn't make sense.

What possible reasons are there? Because it would make Miami, the IMG event look like a lesser tournament in North America? My heart bleeds. Welcome to the world of backhanders and bribes folks. Self interested parties, everyone who's in it for what they can get. Tennis isn't as high profile as the Premier League that's for sure but seems to me like it's another corrupt organisation with everyone in it for themselves.

How does this link to Roger? Well he's long campaigned for the lesser ranked players to get better prize money and treated with more respect by the ATP. With the the ATP turning down a seemingly great offer and IMG playing a part in the rejection that no doubt reinforced in his mind why he left them to work solely with Tony Godsick.

He even commented in a press conference on his suprise at the prize money rejection:

For me, I was a bit surprised to hear that, obviously, I wasn't in the room when everything went down because it's at the board level, at the CEO level. What I can tell you is I will investigate and make sure that the decision they've taken is, indeed, the right one. If it's not, then obviously we need to talk about it and what we can do in the future. It's an important issue.

Federer Decides to Drop Miami from his Schedule

The next big shock with Roger was that he dropped Miami from his 2013 schedule, which surprise surprise is another IMG Event.

The reasons are unknown but it looks to be too much of a coincidence just to be scheduling reasons alone. Has Roger fallen out with IMG? Is he trying to pressure them into accepting the increase prize money offer at Indian Wells by refusing to play there?

I'm not sure we'll find out as Roger keeps things like this under wraps, which I think is sensible. But I don't think Roger will be playing an IMG run event any time soon.

Anyway, over to you, what do you guys think? Will Roger ever play an IMG Event again?

Another thing I'd like to know more about is; are Basel and IMG linked? I know that Roger Brennwald owns the tournament but apparently when Roger was with IMG they tried to buy the tournament off him. Brennwald rejected it, but is there still a link and could IMG be a part of why Roger isn't playing Basel? Internal politics huh!

Another little update thanks to Vasco in the comments below and @UltimateFederer on Twitter who let me know that Rafael Nadal has also left IMG. And he too pulled out of Abu Dhabi citing a stomach virus as the reason. Very strange that's all I can say!

Update: Why did Federer leave IMG?

Last night I had an interesting chat on twitter with @AlexDuff1 on twitter, who also happens to take awesome tennis photos, check out the one of Fed from the World Tour Finals, so crisp!

Anyway, his theory (no evidence just thoughts) is that Federer and Godsick wanted to go it alone and they had to pay IMG off to make that happen due to a no compete clause in Tony Godsick's contract.

IMG Theory

I think that's definitely a plausible theory. It's likely Godsick would have some kind of restrictive covenants in his contract to prevent him starting up his own management company immediately after he left. Perhaps the deal is now he can only manage Roger for X amount of years then he is free to do what he wants. Maybe we'll see Goderer Management once Roger retires.

The big question is though why did Godsick and Roger leave IMG in the first place? Roger has been with the agency since 2005 so there had to be something wrong.

Alex and I came up with three possible reasons:

  • IMG wanted rid of Federer – unlikely as he's still a hot commodity.
  • IMG didn't like the fact Federer was playing Exhibitions in South America outside of the ATP Tour and somewhat devaluing their own tournament in Abu Dhabi.
  • Godsick and Federer wanted it to go alone for one reason or another – they thought they'd work better alone, or they knew that IMG were preparing to sell the business in 2013 and decided it was better to move before a buy out.

If we discount the first reason as I think that's very unlikely. Most organisations bleed things dry before they give them up and if you consider that Fed has just signed a deal with Moet & Chandon worth X million, of which IMG would have earned a percentage if they still managed him then it's unlikely to think they would give that up.

The second one is very interesting, it's widely reported that the Gillette Tour was a very lucrative deal for Roger, apparently he earned $1.2 million per match and something tells me he didn't pay for his flights and accommodation.

Although Gilette have sponsored Roger for a while, it's the first time they've leveraged the whole sport of tennis with him at the fore, sure they've done adverts where he's holding a racket but this time around they effectively put on an entire tournament from start to finish; something which is IMG's forte so to speak.

It's not unreasonable to think that IMG would get annoyed at something like that, especially if Roger then couldn't commit to Abu Dhabi which devalues their own tournament and effects their profitability.

The final speculative reason that IMG and Fed/Godsick split is perhaps because IMG are planning on selling their business next year, according to Variety magazine there are number of possible bidders, including CAA which used to manage Djokovic before he signed for IMG last week. Strange.

If you read the article you'll also see that IMG make the vast amount of their revenue from other arms of the business, and not the athletes it has on it's books. The article also suggests the company could be split up and different areas sold to different bidders.

If Godsick knew the company were going to sell up then it's sensible for him to want out and do his own thing. If the relationship with IMG and Roger wasn't fantastic with regards to the South American tour they could have put a premium price on Godsicks buyout clause and that's why we see Roger not playing at Abu Dhabi or Miami because he knows he significantly increases the profitability of those tournaments. If he doesn't think IMG are helping the sport of tennis by refusing prize money increases then why would he want to help them out?

Photo Credit.


Huge fan of Roger Federer. I watch all his matches from Grand Slam level right down to ATP 250. When I'm not watching or writing about tennis I play regularly myself and have a keen interest in tactics, equipment and technicalties of the sport.

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    1. Hey Vasco,

      Thanks for the link, someone just sent me the same one on Twitter and I didn’t know about that.

      Very strange. Especially when he has just pulled out of Abu Dhabi too. Maybe the IMG ship is sinking.


  1. I trust Roger’s sound judgment & common sense will prevail in whatever decisions he makes. I just hope that he does not let these petty, ridiculous scenarios prevent him playing the game he loves to play & we love to watch. Tennis will never be the same when he stops playing & there are still many more records he can set. Go Roger, where ever & when ever you play I will be watching!

    1. Hi Irene,

      Yeah Fed usually gets it spot on with his judgement so I’m sure his reasoning his sound.

      Weird how Nadal has now left IMG too. Strange goings on.

  2. Jonathan thanks for this analysis.

    I am following it all with interest. I saw another story on Tennis World dated 21 Dec. In it the director of the Marseille tournament was cited as saying that Roger was a “sad and banal person”. He also said something along the lines of Roger only featuring in discusussions because he was in the top 2. Apparently if he had been ranked lower he would not even been mentioned.

    He then launched into praising Djokovic as a visionary and the man of the moment.

    To say that I was taken aback by the sad/banal comment about Roger would be an understatement. Why would anyone use such words to describe anyone? Could there be a link to the IMG saga? I actually went to check the meaning of those words again. They simply don’t fit the Roger I know.

    Why is this coming fr all these organisers/directors and around the same time? Some of these players could easily be their sons.

    Sad indeed…

    1. Oh yes, Djokovic is a visionary because he bows to the wishes of those who are in power and has utter disregard for lower ranked players. Didn’t Djokovic want less tournaments (which would hurt those players whose lives depend on those small pay checks)? Didn’t Djokovic want a two-year ranking system (that would protect the top and not give a new comer who has a good year to reach the top)? Sure, he has a vision.

      Have we forgotten that tournament (I think Dubai) where Djokovic got his brother Marko (ranked 800 something) a wild card at the expense of a more deserving, better ranked player?

      I don’t want to go on ranting more about Djokovic or I will come across as racist. And I will never put those comments on YouTube or all of Serbia will torch me


      1. Haha Sid. Was Djoker pro 2 year rankings? I wasn’t sure.

        I think he’s ok, not a big fan of his but he’s tolerable. Sometimes lacks a little class and his corner can be annoying in the crowd from time to time. But he always seem to play well in the clutch these days, can be pretty good to watch.

        That Marko wild card thing was a joke. Fair enough Djokovic trying to help his brother out but more fool the ATP for allowing it to happen.

      2. I am not fooled by Djokovic’s “vision” Sid -:)

        Although I acknowledge that he plays some really good tennis…Def not in the class of Roger by any standard.

    2. Thanks Abi 🙂

      Yeah I saw that article too, what a ridiculous thing to say. Fortunately Fed isn’t dumb enough to hit back in the media. Water of a Duck’s back.

      I think that was because Federer isn’t playing Marseille and he may have hinted at it. The guy who made the comment is also the co director at the Paris Masters I believe so maybe he’s just anti Fed. He did skip it this year after all…


      1. You’re right about guy. I think Roger was also offered over USD $1million for Marseille, which he had rejected.

  3. I wouldn’t be surprised there is politics involved, and probably even more than we think… I think Roger is making the decisions he is making exáctly for the reason that he is loving the game and politics don’t fit in there at all… I trust his judgment too and I’m sure some way, somehow we’ll find out about things a bit more in the next few months even maybe… However, you’ll never know all of it. It might very well be that he won’t be playing IMG tournaments anymore… I wouldn’t be surprised, but never say never… Only time can tell…

    Btw I read somewhere that the Mubadala organisation said that Roger and his manager were “most kind in replying” when they asked him if he’d want to replace Nadal and they added “like they always are”… If you are stressing that in an interview or press conf, you need to make up for something so to speak (I’ve worked for CEO’s a lot and learnt a lot about that)

    So strange things are going on yes…

    1. Yeah I reckon a lot of it will be confidential information. There will have to be a leak to get any more information on the goings on I think.

      Yeah some of the quotes coming from the IMG guys in Abu Dhabi are daft, sounds very insincere a lot of it.

  4. But Nadal is playing Miami, right? So maybe it isn’t exactly an IMG boycott by him?

    I don’t know if Roger will play an IMG event again. Maybe there will be an agreement of some sort. But what I know is, these events should further fire up Roger. Which is good because that would mean he would be around for a few more years 🙂

    I always knew there’s a lot of corruption in the tennis world though I didn’t know the details. This article gave me a lot of good information.

  5. Good reporting Jonathan. I think that there has always been a lot of wheeling and dealing in the upper echelons of tennis, even in the “amateur”days before pro tennis where players were paid under the table. I think that Rafa and Roger are both very honest and professional and I would trust them completely. Anyone who would think that Roger isn’t the most major draw in tennis is delusional. Google tennis channel and Roger’s name comes up right next to it. Roger has been the most popular player how many years in a row? I just want to add that I think Rafa and his team are really good sports, and humble. I was watching the Aussie Open from last year and saw uncle tony applauding Roger’s winners. I think that that says it all. When watching tennis these days, if Roger loses, I’m in Rafa’s corner. Tim

    1. Cheers Tim.

      Hmm I disagree a little about Nadal. Sometimes I find him a little fake and as though he’s speaking from a script to appear humble. Maybe it’s the language thing who knows. Although there’s been a couple of times we’ve seen his true colours and unsporting behaviour.

      He was pretty unsporting against Rosol and he does try to throw his opponents with medical timeouts, time wasting and stupid rituals. I was court side when he played Del Potro at Wimbledon when Del Po was on top he called a medical timeout just before the tie break. You got the feeling it was a little unnecessary. Or as Pokerstars would say, a bluff 😛 maybe that’s why they signed him.

      I like his desire to win and his never give up approach but sometimes he goes a little too far. Guess that’s just his makeup though. Same with Uncle Tony, he’s often had warnings for on court coaching and he’s made stupid comments in the media before.

      His Dad seems ok when I’ve seen him in the crowd, he paid Fed respect a few times but then again you don’t see much of him to really get a feel for him.

      1. Hmmm I guess being court side would make a difference. I’ve never been to a slam tournament. What’s it like? Maybe you could write a piece on your experience. Take care. Tim

      2. It’s pretty good. I’ve done Wimbledon twice and WTF 3 times. Managed to see Fed every year at the tour finals which has been fun, especially when he beat Nadal in 2010.

        If I visit a tournament, or slam this year, which I hope to, I’ll do a write up. Be a little out of date if I do one now, not seen live tennis since WTF in 2011.

  6. This is all very interesting! I have to admit that up until now I really have not paid much attention to the whole Roger and IMG scenario but I was surprised earlier in the year when I heard that both he and Godsick had left the agency. I personally can’t see Fed playing another IMG tournament in the forseeable future. I’m interested to see what happens with the issue of the prize money- it is ludicrous to think that the ATP turned down Larry Ellison’s offer simply because the Miami tournament would appear less prestigious. The fact that Federer publicly voiced his confusion over why it happened adds to the intrigue. At the end of the day, most of these issues, like a lot of things, are centred around money, unfortunately. I also just want to say that I’m really surprised to hear that Rafa is after leaving IMG too… What Roger does Rafa does I suppose…!!

  7. I can’t believe Sproule said all that shit. Seriously, who gives a f*** if Roger hasn’t won the event, its an exhibition! Senseless excuse! And he’s thrilled that Murray is participating and even with the big expectations, the cocky Scot lost in straight sets to Tipsarevic. I don’t think Roger will participate in another IMG event in the future as well. I’m fine with him skipping the Abu Dhabi exo and Miami for the next few years.

    1. Yeah those were ill thought out comments. Not sure why they were made.

      You can see why IMG were bigging up Murray because they’ve been trying to sign him up for a while.

    2. I too could not believe the comments of the French gentleman (twit) – and I know who I would rather see if given a choice between Roger, Murray or Djokovic (who I also saw at Wimbledon in 2011 suffice to say I left the Djokovic match to look at the outside courts (it was that good!!) and it certainly would not be Murray!! – quite pleased that he lost – Fed rocks and everyone who is a true tennis fan knows how lucky we are to have him in Tennis (as with Nadal)

  8. I would not be surprised if there is politics involved, especially after Roger left IMG many months ago. Maybe this is just nothing though and we are looking for something that isn’t there. We won’t really know for sure I guess. I just think it’s dumb that all the focus is on Djokovic and Murray and the ATP seems very willing to do whatever possible to put Roger out of the way.

  9. First thing detective school teaches us, “We are not allowed to believe in coincidences.” 😉
    Anyway, i think Roger is well off without these money-sniffing hogs. Everything Roger’s doing is for the best of himself and the sport. If that means boycotting IMG, so be it.

    1. Of the ones Federer plays it’s just those two but they also run Barcelona and Kuala Lumpur I believe.

      IMG are involved in a lot of tournaments, usually retail and licensing of products. But with those 4 above they look after all aspects – sponsorships, ticketing, retail etc etc.

  10. I also was shocked at the words the Abu Dhabi organizers first used when Roger decided not to play. The whole ‘we’re celebrating champions’ crap was laughable, considering half the participants had also never won the tournament! Rafa pulling out at the same time he announced leaving IMG seemed too coincidental. Yes, I realize he’s also pulled out of Doha and the AO for the same stomach deal, but even that smells fishy. What? He anticipates his stomach still hurting in three weeks?

    I can see where Roger not scheduling Miami can be tied to the IMG thing, but he has talked about cutting either IW or Miami out before so I wasn’t surprised to see one of them axed in 2013. But I’m sure the IMG-tie in made the decision about which one to drop. I won’t be surprised at all if Rafa drops out of Miami too.

    1. Yeah the Nadal thing is weird. Must be more to it than just a virus, you wouldn’t withdraw 3 weeks before for something that could clear up in a day or 2.

      Maybe more will come out in the next few days…

  11. Not quite the right place to post this, but I’m wondering if nadull (sorry Jonathan, hope you didn’t copyright the nickname 😉 ) is ever going to play again (IMG or not)… Pulled out of Aussie open?? Come on… pulling out of a GS because he’s sick WEEKS before??? is there an anti-doping test in Australia which is planned?…. The hell is wrong with him?…

    1. Don’t worry Simon, Jonathan won’t copyright it. He may have a lot of bad qualities 😉 but greed isn’t one of them (just kidding)!

      I strongly believe this has got something to do with a substance ban. Call me a conspiracy theorist but I believe it to be true.

      The other theory could be that he is resting, and resting well, to get an 8th FO (giving him a record 9th consecutive year with at lease one slam) and setting him up for a slam run, and final sprint to Roger’s 17. We will see 🙂

      1. You’re not the first person to mention the doping thing. I’ve seen a lot written with regards to it before but never really thought about it. Seems to far out to be true but I guess so did Lance Armstrong. Innocent till proven guilty though.

        He’s made the final in Australia before though, no reason to miss it it when the French is a good 5 months away.

      2. @Jonathan, “no need to rest for AO”. But to play AO, 5 setters on hard courts, he has to put in at least a month of intense training. I don’t think he wants to do that. He simply wants to start with clay and get back his game from there.

        I always believe Armstrong was doped. There was never any proof though. Look how it turned out. What a scam! What a shame!

        I’m telling you, Nadal is being protected and there are several reasons the ATP would do that; money being on top of the list.

      1. Surely he will play again. Unless he’s damaged his knees again in training and the outlooks bad. Just weird that he’d cite a virus as the reason.

    2. Yeah it’s such a weird decision. One minute he’s coming back in Abu Dhabi then the next minute he’s out of the Australian Open with something trivial like a virus. No way you’d pull out 3 weeks before with something like that like you said.

      Strange though.

      1. Its already happened this year, there were speculations that he would play in US Open but he didn’t. then we thought it was going to be in the WTF, but then he announced the withdrawal

  12. I finally read all of the article. Dude, you know so many things about Roger, I mean, almost everything 🙂 I had no idea Roger was making $1.2 mil every Federer Tour game. Wow! That’s a whopping $7 million or so. It’s like winning all the slams in a year.

    I swear to God, Roger should’ve replaced Godsick with you 😉

    1. I know, crazy moneys. They’re going to have to sell a lot of razor blades but I’m sure they can afford it!

      I’d happily take Godsick’s role. I’d even be a hitting partner too. How about that for versatility 😉

      1. I’m sure they are selling a lot of those blades. I use Gillette razors and shaving foam so business is good for them 😉

  13. I think the reason Roger split from IMG is because of the scandal that broke fall of 2010. The head of IMG, Frostmann, was being sued because he bet on Roger to win the FO in 2007. At the time of the scandal, Roger said it had nothing to do with him and said his “man was Godsick”. Perhaps Roger wanted out of the company for a while and as soon as his contract was up he left.
    As far as Nadal, I’m sure we don’t know what’s really going on. A silent ban? Why has he not had surgery on his knee?

    1. Hi SUe,

      Hmm interesting, I’m not sure on that because the scandal never materialised. The guy who made the claim was someone who’d lost his fortune and was out to try make some cash. If it’d been a problem then do you reckon he’d have stayed 2 more years? That’s a long time if he wasn’t happy. Forstmann passed away in November 2011 so maybe the company structure/ethos changed a little after that….

      No idea on Nadal, you can’t weight him/it up. A virus? Such a minor thing and so far in front of the tournament starting.

  14. Wow….very fishy indeed. All the IMG things, now no AO for Nadal? WTF? Hope Roger just plays tennis not being distracted by silly politics which I believe he always does. Though those conspiracy theories make the dull off-season interesting at least! So thanks, Jonathan.

  15. I think Roger was invited to play the Abu Dhabi exo after Nadal withdrew since he was training in Dubai, but he turned the offer down. I think he may never play there again. It is better to train in Dubai and play Doha before the Australian Open every year from now if he chooses to. I heard that since Roger is 31 years of age, played over 600 matches.etc, he not required to compete in the compulsory 8 Master 1000s and other tournaments if he doesn’t want to, is that correct?

    1. Yeah he turned them down. Which is the right move. Especially about that ‘celebrating past champions’ rubbish.

      Yeah it’s true, ATP Rule – for each milestone you can reduce your Masters 1000 commitment by 1. And if you meet all 3 requirements you don’t have any commitements so can skip whatever you want I believe:

      1) 600 matches (as of 1 January of the commitment year)
      2) 12 years of service
      3) 31 years of age (as of 1 January of the commitment year)

  16. Hi All , great posts about the IMG story, I don’t have any knowledge about them but for sure would bet that nasty politics of the highest order is somewhere at the root of the issue. As regards Nadal, he could well have pulled out of the Aussie Open due to doping issues… as a sportsman from Track & Field I was truly shocked when I learned of the sophisticated doping and drugs regimen of such luminaries in their day as Marion Jones and Dwain Chambers who systematically went to huge lengths to hide their evil doings…nothing, and I mean nothing, surprises me anymore… although if anyone were doping I would even put Djokovic ahead of Nadal in this regard. Eleven hours of tortuous play in the semi and final of the Aussie Open in 2012 against Murray and Nadal! Food for thought indeed. I have run many marathons some at a 2.20 to 2.30 level and truly appreciate the enormous endurance effort that goes into such training but eleven hours in back-to back matches at the Aussie Open, well, definitely a little artificial help I am sure would not go amiss! But my theory is that Nadal is truly f***** and could well go the same way as Borg, and is going to give one last push in his tennis career for the clay court season, and then he might call it a day. I know from fellow athletes over many years that some knee injuries are simply untreatable despite THE best medical expertise out there. Does Nadal fall into this category?

    1. Cheers Paul.

      Yeah I wouldn’t like to say but like you say I guess anything is possible these days. 2h 20 that’s some seriously good going for a marathon! Bet Paula Radcliffe can’t clock those times anymore 🙂

      Hopefully we learn more about Nadal, a virus just doesn’t sound like a legitimate reason to pull out of a slam. It’s like Roger having a hangover on New years day and calling a press conference to say he’s out of the AO because he feels sick!

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